By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
After months of online vitriol from students, alumni and campus newspaper writers over the installation of courtside seats in front of the Reilly Center student section, St. Bonaventure Director of Athletics Tim Kenney finally got his chance to meet with students in person on Tuesday night.
Kenney led a town hall-style meeting in the student section of the arena that was attended by about 30 students. After rewarding the crowd with some Domino’s pizza as promised, he got down to business and discussed the most hotly-contested topic of his five-month tenure.
When Kenney attended the Atlantic 10’s June meetings with fellow athletic directors, conference leaders made it clear that controlling the court surface would be a point of emphasis going forward. Storming the court, which Bona’s student section did three times the past two seasons, was a main point of discussion.
Kenney, who was at UMass before coming to Bonaventure in April, made it clear that the Minutemen had no problem with the court storming after Bona’s upset in January 2014. “It was basically like ‘alright, you kicked our butts, you deserve to do it’,” Kenney said.
However, the court storming against VCU in February contributed to the start of the conversation, according to Kenney. The Rams were jostled around as they attempted to leave the court, which is precisely what the Atlantic 10 is trying to avoid in the future.
Kenney protested against the A-10’s original solution, which was going to be a $5,000 fine to schools for storming the court. “We already have money problems as it is,” he said.
The conference responded that if schools had issues with a possible fine, the athletic departments would have to come up with a solution to ensure the safety of all players, coaches and spectators.
Bona got to work, brainstorming ideas and thinking of what was best for everyone involved. A barrier was suggested, which Kenney wasn’t a fan of. “I didn’t want you guys (the students) to look like caged animals,” he explained.
Instead, SBU went with the courtside seats idea. Lost in the outrage the move created was how efficient Kenney and his team were at selling those seats- all 48 were accounted for in just a few weeks’ time.
The rapid sale of the seats allowed Bonaventure to talk with the people who purchased them. “They know all about the Wolfpack and what they’re getting into,” Kenney said.
Donors made it clear that they wanted the Reilly Center’s home court advantage to continue to be one of the best in the country. That’s where the students come in; at least 14 of the 24 chairs being placed in front of the student section will be donated to the students.
The athletic department is not sure how those student seats will be allocated yet, so they sought ideas at the town hall meeting. The most notable suggestion was a raffle- students would put in a dollar or two for a chance to sit courtside. It was an ironic 180-degree turn in the whole ordeal and a sign of true compromise- now, the student body was not only starting to come around on the seats, its members were coming up with ideas to raise money for the school.
The seats weren’t the only area in which Kenney sought input from the students; he also wanted to know how to improve the game experience. A few of those present remarked that they liked t-shirts, so a whiteout like the one in the 2012-13 season was brought up. Kenney took it a step further by saying that the department was thinking about giving out a new shirt for every game. If you’re scoring at home, that would be nine different Wolfpack shirts this season.
These ideas are all centered around the students, with the main goal being to keep the students who are at every game and luring in the students who don’t regularly attend.
“I’m about the students first because you guys are the breath of life to the games,” Kenney said. “The students are the heartbeat of college basketball, and the players and coaches agree.”
Just how successful was the meeting? After Kenney asked if his explanation helped students understand the reasons behind the changes and what the department was trying to accomplish, one student mumbled under her breath, “Yeah, I don’t hate you anymore.”